Monthly Archives: April 2009

 This week some of us had a chance to discuss the impact of the recession on the arts and culture at the CPPS seminar and do so through several new lenses. 

Firstly, the short term ‘phew’ factor, the specific budget implication for DCMS and the Arts Council of England which, with a £4m cut is less than many feared.  

Secondly, the revelations not only about the size of the UK’ structural budget deficit but the IFS observation that

whoever takes office in the general election after next will still have to find another £45 billion a year in today’s money by the end of their parliament to eliminate this deficit, from tax increases and cuts in non-investment spending

The combined impact of this on local government as well as national and devolved administrations has yet to be computed – but it will certainly mean less public subsidy for the arts and culture for some time.

Thirdly, we have the analysis from Arts and Business that  global recession has already caused considerable damage to the arts.

Fourthly, ACE has done some preliminary research about the likely impacts of recession and we can learn more from the impact already in Ireland where customer behaviour has changed significantly.

Although we cant predict exactly if this is a tempest or a hurricane, the combined impact of these forces is not going to blow over. 

ACE’s new Sustain fund has £40m to support arts organisations survive the recession  and

to help them maintain their artistic, financial and organisational viability during the recession and to implement essential changes to ensure their long term sustainability.

The key to this is the proviso that essential changes must be implemented.

The challenge that we have here is to be innovative enough in the changes we design.  Arts organisations are amongst the most conservative of businesses around.  And almost every arts council scheme to support change over the last 15 years- advancement, stabilisation etc have ended up including a lot of  elastoplast jobs. Arts organisations are largely driven to preserve their business models and seek additional resources to to feed the model.  And are brilliant at dressing this up in all sorts of ways to attract money.

We need to take radical steps now, not just to batten down the hatches and try and sit this out.  At the seminar there was much discussion about the need to innovate radically and for us all to sweat our communal assets.  This means deconstructing some of the machinery we have built, reducing the size of our cultural intermediaries, collaborating on the delivery of services.  We need to come out of our silos and 20th century structures to collaborate on solutions in groups.  This could include national cultural agencies contracting out some services and time-limited programmes to other parts of our infrastructure, including local authorities and creative hubs and SMEs; arts organisations choosing to merge and create smaller machinery to service more creative experiences.

And stop procrastinating.



How should we reconfigure the cultural landscape to best support creative experiences of artists and audiences?  What do we need intermediate cultural agencies to do and how?

Reflecting on the comments made over the last week, there are 3 areas to highlight:

1. First principle is to support talent,  artists, creative content , creative practice and opportunity to engage in creative experiences.  So intermediate agencies should be concerned with opening up opportunity.

 2. We need an intermediate agency to do 2 different things.  One  is to run an efficient funding system.  The other, more complex requirement is to mediate between government policy and the broader operating context to support the success of creativity and the creative sector in all aspects of life. This means being a champion, broker and networker across every area where the arts and creativity make a difference.  So thats cultural,social and economic spheres

3. We need to declutter the landscape, to reduce the layers, to reduce the resources perceived to be tied up in administration and release the resources into art and creative experiences.  One way of doing this is for national intermediate agencies to be small  and for for other players to be involved in delivering time limited services.  Another way is to design and run streamlined funding systems and for intermediate agencies to identify as being strategic agencies not funding bodies.  We, the arts community can also help in this, in particular through using social media to harness our expertise  and knowledge.

My wrap up for Monday.


We need a support network to create the best opportunities and best conditions possible at any one time given the starting points of the artistic and creative talent we have and the context in which we are operating. The particular role of a national intermediate agency is to mediate between government policy and the needs of the arts and creative sector.


So, what would a 21st century national cultural agency look like?


How should it operate to provide the best service given the changed circumstances?


  1. It should be more open than shut. Its focus should be on creating opportunity, enabling flow and movement and creating the conditions for creative development and growth.  Although it will manage a funding system, which inevitably means restrictions and regulation, this should not be the defining feature. It should be an expert strategic agency which operates a funding system, not a funding body.
  2. It should work across networks and not layers.  It should be a connector and a broker of connections
  3. It should be a champion for the arts and creative sector influencing all aspects of society.
  4. It needs to be an expert body.  Its defining skills should be specialisms across the arts and creative sector but these should not be organised in silos.
  5.  It should be a fleet, flexible and adaptive body, with a 360% perspective.  To retain this flexibility, it should be as small as possible, commissioning and contracting time-limited services and programmes from others.These others should include, amongst others, local authorities, creative hubs and other core cultural infrastructure, creative SMEs and other agencies.

 This way, all of us can collaborate on providing a network of support, sharing our expertise and knowledge.


We need to reorganise our systems and structures for cultural support so that we can

·       support success across the whole creative sector  (where it is needed and strategically focussed)

·        maximise the influence, contribution of arts and creative sectors in other spheres, economic, social, educational, local and international

·       benefit from the skills and cultural infrastructure we have

·       benefit from changes in communication through digital media

·       be fast enough now that the pace of everything has changed

We need to re-engineer our systems and structures for the 21st century and move towards a model based on networks and not layers.  We need to reduce machinery, the costs of it and move towards lighter, more transparent, fleeter, more flexible structure and systems.  We need to collaborate on providing a network of support.

Every country, nation, region and locale has its own priorities, strengths and infrastructure and  structures and systems we design and operate need to be fit for purpose in each case.

But there is a simple approach, a  menu of what we need to fit these times that starts with both  artists and government policy.

That would include (and this is not a hierarchical list – needs a drawing of spheres and connections here)

Clear government policies, primarily cultural policy but also economic and social, supported by government interventions including fiscal policy

Intermediate strategic agency (ies) working across all spheres

A Funding system – we need a funding system not necessarily a funding body

Infrastructure – arts and venues, other players


So what should that intermediate strategic agency look like?

Yesterday I wrote about the generic arts council Model, the way in which that functions is different in England, Ireland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland as each of these countries has its own particular economic, political, social and cultural priorities.  There are other cultural strategic agencies in the mix here, including film, craft and design councils and also other public agencies in enterprise, education, international affairs and local government.

In Scotland, where we have been considering this since devolution, we have a particular set of circumstances including being a small country with big national cultural ambitions  and  having strong capacity, capability in local authorities and arts organisations.   The priority for the Scottish Government  “To focus government and public services on creating a more successful country, with opportunities for all of Scotland to flourish, through increasing sustainable economic growth”.  The intermediarycultural public sector agencies should support Scotland’s success in the creative economy.

The approach here is to create a single intermediate strategic agency –Creative Scotland.

Ewan Brown, Chair of Creative Scotland 2009, writes in today’s Herald:

·       It will support, develop and promote a much wider range of creativity than the SAC and Scottish Screen have been able to. From advertising, through music, publishing, fashion and architecture to digital media, Creative Scotland will create more opportunities for more individuals, businesses and groups than ever before

·       as a single agency, it will be more efficient, more powerful and more influential

·       it has the remit to push the creative industries to the forefront of Scotland’s economic development

The Scottish solution to the international conundrum has the potential to be a powerful new model but not one that can be applied everywhere.


Since the turn of the century and the new millennium, there have been more and more narratives written about why we need to reconfigure the cultural landscape and, in particular, why the arts council model is dead.  All too often this reverts into that ancient ritual whereby those of us who are artists or in arts organisations attack those of us who are employed by the arts councils which is both unfair and hackneyed.    Whatever we do, we have to get over ourselves and beyond this.


The struggle is over who controls resources.  Those of us who are artists and in arts organisations are accused by those of us in arts councils of biting the hand that feeds them.(them/us/we)


But at the root of this there is a fundamental challenge to the concept that those of us in arts councils should have the power and resources to determine our activities and sometimes our futures.  Why should those of us who work in the arts council hold the keys, why should they be gatekeepers?  Why do we even need a gate?


There has been many a page written and printed by cultural commissions, policy makers and academic explaining why there needs to be change and a number of consistent threads emerge through this, from the work of the Cultural Commission in Scotland in 2004 to Tim Joss’ New Flow in 2009.


We have the benefit of all that work now and, through the lens of our clearer understanding about the impact of new technology on everything, we can boil down the need for change into three elements:


1.     The rules of creative engagement have changed. The convergence of content and technology changes the way we contribute to, and encounter, creative experiences, creative products and creative processes.

  • artist and creative practicioners not only work in historic forms like theatre and painting but increasingly create in interactive and digital environments
  • participants in creative experiences now interact with the artist and content to personalise their experiences

2.     The ways we can and will organise ourselves has changed. The new communications world means that the arts community can collobarate and network without the need to refer up through gatekeepers.  There is now enormous potential to harness and share knowledge and expertise and to streamline delivery for the good of the whole community.


3.     The importance and power of the arts and creativity to our society is recognised by government.   All the work of the last century advocating the instrumental values in terms of social and economic impact has paid off.  The arts and creativity are at the heart of society and are recognised now by government has being major economic and social drivers.  Therefore structures need to reflect this.



The Arts Council Model

In referring to the Arts Council Model, I refer to a generic model, recognising that the model iself is continually restructured and reconfigured.  Over the last 15 years, the Model, in different parts of the UK, has constantly been challenged, reviewed and restructured.  The weakness of the Model is the crux of the issue.  All commentators feel compelled to redesign it and often the suggestions are complex.  Actually its much simpler.


The problem with the Model itself is that it combines both funding administration (reactive) and research and advocacy (proactive) which is not impossible but difficult.  The majority of resources are tied up in the funding part of the Model and therefore the organisational characteristics tend to be those appropriate to a government grant giving agency.  Most of the discontent about the arts councils over the years relate to how they perform their role as funding bodies and tends to overshadow the proactive development activity.  The necessary ‘gatekeeping’ functions of grant giving tend to also be applied to the research and knowledge base held by arts councils and this annoys artists and others in the arts community.


So we have a model with intrinsic weaknesses. It works better in some parts of the world than others and that is largely to do with the particular operating environment.   But the trend towards devising complex new structures to deal with this is not the answer.  We need to consider the bigger picture, the impact and potential of the changes around us and collaborate on  answers.





Comments on yesterday’s post  focussed on the machinery we have built – and what it costs, its cost effectiveness and general usefulness now.

I’ve never seen a problem that wouldn’t be easier to solve with fewer people, or harder, and ultimately impossible, with more. 

David Attenborough yesteday

And when we come to look at the opportunities presented by the recession, it is worth looking at the fitness for purpose of our current machinery in our changing world.

NESTA has called for innovation in the public sector, to cut costs and find innovative ways of delivering public services and suggests involving more ‘players’, parcelling up services to social enterprises for example.

We  have the great advantage in the arts now of having a developed infrastructure, many skilled professionals (some of these are volunteers) and venues as part  of our machinery nowadays.  We also now are able to engage collectively as the arts community and connect through networks in new ways through technology.  So, if we wanted to look at reducing the amount of machinery, we are in a good place to start. We could do things differently, moving more of the support and services to groups, venues and local agencies.  In the arts and creative industries, many of us are the pebbles not boulders – small and agile – that we need to be to successful in a digital Britain (Charles Leadbetter’s response to Digital Britain).

But machinery, and structures, are only there to support delivery of priorities.  And in, out and through the recession, we are re-evaluating priorities.  On the one hand, going back to basics, core values and on the other, backing winners and dropping losers.

If you had to choose 3 priorities for support in the arts and creative industries which would see us through the recession, what would they be?

Lets assume that the Government deals with the critical policy interventions identified in Digital Britain in terms of broadband, rights and PSB.

My 3 elements would be:

1. supporting artists for all the great things they contribute

2. ensuring a network of venues, creative hubs which create the conditions and connections for creative experiences

3. crowding in investment and support to back the games industry, which has the potential for high economic growth

The current recession offers an opportunity for us to review our priorities in the arts and creative industries.  Many people, audiences and participants, have less money and there is less public sector subsidy available for the arts and culture.

This is a time when the role of artists and arts are invaluable, both in intrinsic and instrumental dimensions;  making sense of the changing world, transcending the mundane, contributing towards social and community cohesion.


This is also a time when, to attack recession and achieve economic growth, picking winners in the creative industries is a good idea.


To deliver priorities such as 1 and 2 -in the context of less public susbsidy.  we would want to get more cash out of the machinery to support good quality raw materials, processes and products.


 And what would we need our intermediaries to do?



1.    In  supporting artists, providing financial support and advocating the role and value of the artist and art in society


2.     Connecting artists with parts of the public sector where they can make a major contribution, through social services for example


3.     Supporting a network of creative hubs, venues which are enabling spaces


4.     Championing sectors and making interventions which have the potential for high growth and crowd in investment around these – videogames and interactive technology (NESTA reports UK and Scotland)




We have a system of 20th century cultural institutions developed to meet the conditions of a century whose technological, economic, political and social conditions were very different from those of today.

And its up to all of us in the arts – that includes artists, arts organisations and all of us who work in intermediate agencies – like arts councils and other agencies – to look at what we have built at this time and challenge, is it what we want and need?     Things are changing, including changes to some public sector agencies.   How can we best support the design and delivery of these changes?



Changes between ‘then’ and ‘now’ for the arts


Lets take 1976 as a year to compare with ‘now’ as far as the arts and supporting structures are concerned. And lets define ‘now’ as tomorrow.  Because today is already almost over.  The speed of change taking place in our society is faster than we could ever have imagined.  We are increasingly aware of and engaged in the global issues of climate change and the economy.  The internet and digital technology have revolutionised the way we communicate, create, influence and trade internationally.  And at the same time, we are becoming more local and more specialised.


The changes that are taking place as a result of digital technology and the acceleration of new communication through Web 2, 3 and beyond are the most significant for the arts and the creative industries.  In particular, we have new rules of creative engagement and new forms of interactive creative experiences.  And we, the arts community, are able to talk to everybody in the arts through social media.


Of course the phrase ‘creative industries’ hadn’t been invented  in 1976, although most but not all of the sectors now included in that term (DCMS) were in existence.


In 1976 the arts, as far as they were defined by public agencies, were mostly visual art, theatre, music, dance and literature and these were supported by the Arts Councils.  Film, design and crafts were supported by single councils.  These councils are  amongst the intermediate agencies on which I am going to focus on this week.


In 1976, as is the case ‘now’, broadcasting was regulated by the Government and cultural institutions including museums, libraries and art galleries were supported and local and national government.



During 1976 I worked at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow and then went to the City University London.


This is what it was like..


In 1976,  in the analogue age..


There was a lot less machinery around the arts. There were fewer subsidised arts organisations and fewer cultural professionals.   


I worked at the Citizens’ Theatre which produced world class theatre, attracted full houses for an international repetoire, toured internationally, attracted schools from all over Scotland and was socially inclusive.  All our seats were 50p.  Neither the policy nor activities were pre-determined by the policies of funders.  The other great local and national arts organisations of the time included those set up by writers and artists  – the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow and the Traverse in Edinburgh and again the SAC responded supportively to them.  Some artists and writers were supported through grants directly through the arts councils.


At the Citz, I ran the communications hub – that is, the manual telephone switchboard through which all calls had to be made (no direct dialling let alone mobile phones)

  • I typed press releases on ‘skins’ on an electric typewriter  – stencils on which I had to type before slapping them on to the drum of the duplicating machine
  • The lighting board wasn’t computerised
  • Posters were printed on litho presses
  • Tickets were sold through a glass booth, 3 part stubs and sales managed through a system involving colouring pencils and brown envelopes
  • Pay was in cash


Public subsidy was provided by the Scottish Arts Council which was part of the Arts Council of Great Britain and its division of the funding came directly from 105 Piccadilly.


Glasgow City Council also subvented the Citz – despite various protests from citizens about us producing ‘Shakespeare in Drag’.  The decision to fund came from the Director of Finance and local councillors. There were no arts officers, cultural policy committees, strategies etc.


In some ways things were more difficult and laborious – me and the duplicating machine for example.  But in some way they were much simpler and clearer.  In terms of the relationship between the arts organisation and the government, it was simple and the landscape was uncluttered.




In 1976 I also went to the City University London and let me introduce Joan and Harry here.


Harry McCann was the Finance Director for the Scottish Arts Council.  When I was selected for Post Graduate City University Diploma in Arts Administration City University, I wrote (on my electric typewriter, then posted) to him and asked for a bursary.  He responded, I met him and he awarded me what was the princely sum of £2000 for my studies.  When I had the cheek to go back to him to support my trip to Paris, he agreed and I was able to take my first trip abroad and by plane (I know, this is analogue days) to visit the great cultural institutions of Paris.  Harry remains for me the best of all arts council officers I ever met.  Direct and supportive, tough when required. Didnt profess to know a great deal about the arts but was there to administer funding to those who did.


Likewise Joan,  the Training Officer for ACGB and ran this function and the committee on which I was the student rep.


Public agencies, including ACGB, were not steeped in management science.  They had no computers but neither did they have to comply with the Freedom of Information Act.


It was oh so simple then .



There were 20 of us on the City University Post Grad course in 1976, 20 people from the UK and the commonwealth and practical experience in the arts was a pre-requisite.  That would be all the people thought required to be trained at this level.  We studied cultural policy, management science, event management, accounts, marketing, sales   – the lot and were sent forth to run the cultural agencies, theatre, and galleries of the UK, Canada and Australia.


We were not sent forth to multiply, although something happened afterwards which caused a proliferation of professionals.


That was the analogue age. 




‘Now’ the rules of creative engagement have changed because of digital technology and the convergence of content and technology.  David Hockney uses a digital paintbrush now.  People participate in the arts and culture through their computers, games consoles or mobile phones.  Computer games and interactive technology are the most culturally, socially and economically important new entrants in the arts and creative industries.


‘Now’ the political landscape has changed with devolved administrations in the nations, and regional devolution.


In Scotland specifically we have a devolved administration and also the Scottish Government has entered into a Single Outcome Agreement with local authorities.


‘Now’, global competitiveness and collaboration are more important than ever


‘Now’ we have a rich but possibly cluttered cultural landscape


With the need to deliver new priorities including access and audience development, we have seen the proliferation not only of activities, audiences and venues but also the rise and rise of the intermediary.  For example, in 1976 we had only the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe.  Now we a fabulous array of Edinburgh festivals delivering cultural, international and economic impact.  And we also have the effective Festivals Edinburgh.  But that organisation, which I believe to be successful and delivering additionality for the Festivals, is one of many additional intermediary organisations.  They all need staff, systems, resources, monitoring, evaluation, boards, committees etc and are interlinked with the staff, systems, resources etc of local authorites, arts council,other pubic agencies etc etc.  They are part of the ever-proliferating professional machinery we have built for ourselves. 


Because the creation of new intermediaries rarely results in any reduction in the pre-existing agencies.  For example, has the creation of a web of audience development agencies,( again many of these do, I believe, provide a good service,) resulted in less staff at the arts councils?  Have the costs of these agencies, including the costs of monitoring them from local authorities and arts councils, been outweighed by the benefits in terms of additional audiences?



Now we have the advantages of a highly skilled arts community.  But we also have the machinery and structures of the last century before things changed.  And more, we have all the additional intermediate agencies as well.  We have cultural committees, cultural policy at local, regional and national level.  We have arts officers, creative partnership officers, audience development agencies, regional cultural consortia, arts development agencies, voluntary arts networks, visual arts, theatre, literature, traditional arts forums.  We also have some extremely significant infrastructure including key regional venues and creative hubs.  All of these are paid for from the tax revenues that you and I generate.


Our public agencies are required to comply with an increasingly demanding set of compliance outputs, from Freedom of Information to Data Protection, and encouraged to comply with the management science of today which inevitably means that more and more time and resources have to be spent on managing their organisations.


‘Now’ we have hundreds of graduates each year of FE and HE institutions and leadership institutes, studying creative industries and arts management, cultural policy, arts management etc.  We have an academy of cultural policy academics not connected with the practical and we have practical managers not connected with policy.


I expect that the additional resources invested in training cultural managers well outweighs the additional resources put into training artists during this time.


Then, in 1976, there was a lot less machinery around the arts. There were fewer subsidised arts organisations, fewer cultural professionals and less cultural paraphenalia. 


There is no longitudinal study to measure the benefits of the increased professionalism of the arts. One of those benefits of all the professionalism, commitment and policies has to be the great venues we have around the country and  some great projects and programmes.


 Do more people and a wider range of people participate?

 That will be difficult to establish, as much of the activity in 1976 was in non subsidised venues.


Are we happy with the infrastructure we have created?


 Does it deliver value for money?


Have we reached such a stage of maturity in our cultural infrastructure and structures that its time for a major rethink?


Is it time to dismantle a 20th century system and some of the heavy machinery and instead use the communication tools, sciences and systems of ‘now’?